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Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 Review

PowerPoint is all about conveying a message visually, so it's no surprise that many of the graphic changes shared by Office applications are of particular interest to PowerPoint users.

For example, the new SmartArt feature helps you communicate by using dynamic graphics, from hierarchy diagrams to process charts. Best of all, you can turn a bullet list into a SmartArt illustration with just a couple of mouse clicks.

Master styles now have a host of layout types, such as this bullet list. PowerPoint 2007 makes it easier to change layout defaults.

Previous versions of PowerPoint supported Master Slides, which are the equivalent to styles in Word - change a property in the Master Slide and all dependent slides are changed. In PowerPoint 2007, Master Slides are vastly enriched. Now there's a new hierarchy. The Master Slide consists of a variety of slide Master Layouts: a picture slide layout (for displaying an image), a chart slide layout (for charts and graphs), and more. You can add, remove, and position elements (such as text boxes) on each layout master, and as you'd expect, changes to the Master Slide ripple through all layouts. It's a much easier approach to applying (and customizing) slide templates than in any previous version of PowerPoint.

Those changes, by the way, now include the ability to apply themes - a collection of properties, from font and font size (one set for headings, one for the body of a slide) to background images and colors of graphic elements. When you add a slide, the theme is used in the thumbnail previews. Best of all, you can take a predefined theme and change it to suit your own taste (or create one from scratch), then save it and easily apply to it other slides or entire presentations from the Themes gallery.

Charts are no longer dependent on the adequate but aging Microsoft Graph applet included in previous versions - you now have the power of Excel 2007 charting. In Office 2003, PowerPoint used MSGraph, a really crude charting tool. Now, when you tell PowerPoint you want to insert a chart, it opens Excel with a table filled in with dummy column headings, dummy row headings, and dummy data - all giving you visual clues as to what you should fill in where.

You can control plenty of visual elements. Shapes can have shadows and flows, softer edges, and more polished 3D effects. You can add effects to the edge of photos (to give a photo a torn-edge look, for example) and control shadow effects (you can control transparency, level of blur, and color).

Changes In Real Time
Basic text handling is improved. At last you can have strikethrough and ALL CAPS font properties just as with Word, and kerning control has been added if you absolutely need precise text control. PowerPoint 2007 lets you select the which fill and outline colors you want for outline text without resorting to WordArt. Likewise, backgrounds are now easier to control thanks to an improved dialog box of options. From gradient fills to tiling, the options you need are here.

PowerPoint 2007 also benefits from suite-wide improvements such as real-time previews of changes (you can instantly see the effect of a font change or color scheme without having to apply a change and then "undo" it). Using the Animations tab you can apply slide transitions and preview them automatically, a great time saver, though the animation effects remain mostly unchanged from previous versions. On the other hand, table formatting is leaps and bounds ahead of previous versions, and combined with quick previews it's easy to pick the look that's just right for your presentation.

When you insert a chart, PowerPoint 2007 opens an Excel worksheet with data; change the data and your chart is automatically updated within your slide.

The zoom slider control has been moved to the bottom-right corner, along with icons to change the view (Normal, Slide Sorter, Slide Show Preview mode). That interface change is easy to adjust to; others will take a little more time. For example, the Insert Slide isn't on the Insert tab but the Home tab - that makes sense, since the idea is that you should be able to use the Home tab icons for the majority of your work, but users trained to use the Insert/Slide command from previous versions will need to adjust, as will having to use the Insert tab to work with headers, footers, clip art, and links.

Speaking of inserting slides - if you are connected to a SharePoint server, you can share your slides with others using a Slide Library. It's just as easy to incorporate a shared slide into your own presentation (you have the choice of using your own theme or the theme stored with the shared slide), and you can set SharePoint to notify you whenever you open your presentation and the shared slide you're using has changed in any way.

A "selection and visibility" panel lets you focus on individual items on a slide; click an item to temporarily hide it while you work on other elements, then click it again to make it reappear. It's now easier to add action buttons (yp click to advance to the next slide, for example), add slide numbers, fill a graphic with an image, apply a gradient to a line (new in 2007), replace one shape with another, and in general handle a myriad of graphics chores.

Also new: the Compatibility checker, which notifies you of what features won't be supported if you save the file in an earlier PowerPoint version (97 through 2003). The new Inspect Document tool removes properties you may not want your audience to have access to, such as author information, comments, revisions, watermarks, and hidden text.

The one feature omitted in 2007 is the content wizard; it allowed you to quickly create a presentation for a variety of situations, such as presenting bad news. It was a good guide for organizing your thoughts. It will be sorely missed.

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